John T. Willis

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Dead Sea

Evelyn and I have been abundantly blessed by traveling worldwide. As many of you know, Evelyn and I have spent significant time in Israel on four different trips: one to deliver a scholarly paper and participate in the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament in Jerusalem in 1985 for two weeks; and then on three archaeological excavations in Banias near Dan at the foot of Mount Hermon in North Israel for six weeks each time. During these times, several times, we went with students by bus along the Dead Sea.

The Bible never refers to "the Dead Sea" by this name. The uses the terms: "the Salt Sea" in Genesis 14:3; Number 34:3; etc.; "Sea of the Arabah" in Deuteronomy 3:17; 4:49; Joshua 3:16; etc.; and "the Eastern Sea" over against the "Western Sea," which is the Mediterranean in Ezekiel 47:18; Joel 2:20; etc. However, some English versions translate these terms as "the Dead Sea" because of the modern name.

The Jordan River, perennial wadis like the Arnon and Zered, fresh or mineral springs like En-Gedi and En-Feshka, feed into the Dead Sea, but the Dead Sea does not empty out beyond itself. An evaporation results, and salt builds up in large amounts in this sea. We and our students went swimming in the Dead Sea several times. Some of our students said they could not swim, but they floated on the top of the sea because the sea is so thick.

The Dead Sea is a very important region for those interested in biblical studies.
1. Genesis 14; 18-19 relates stories about the five cities of the Plain, the most famous of whom are Sodom and Gomorrah. Many scholars thinks these cities flourished in ancient times, but are now submerged a few feet below the surface of the Dead Sea on the south, which is relatively shallow. As we travelled, we saw numerous salt formations nearby, and one could very well "double" with Lot's wife, whom God changed into a pillar of salt.
2. Just north of the Dead Sea a few miles to the northeast is the site of the biblical Shittim or Baal-peor, a very important site because it was here that Moses and the Israelites camped just before Moses' death and just before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to conquer and settle the Land of Canaan beginning in the days of Joshua. See Numbers 25; 33:49; Joshua 2:1; 3:1.
3. On the west of the Dead Sea is En-gedi set up on a large hill with springs. There were caves in that area. In one of these caves, David and his men hid from Saul who was trying to kill David, and David cut off a hem of Saul's garment. 1 Samuel 24.
4. Near the Dead Sea is the now famous site Masada, where Herod built a palatial fortified retreat, where later the Zealots made their suicidal last stand against the Romans. Evelyn and I and several of our students went all over Masada on several occasions. Herod's remains are stunning. The National Geographic recently highlighted this wonderful site.
5. A shepherd, and later archaeologists, excavated caves near the Dead Sea, where they found hundreds of scrolls dating from the Bible and other ancient Jewish writings from the second century B. C. to the first century A. D. Since 1947, "tons" of discoveries have been found, examined, scrutinized, and continue to be under discussion.

God has given the world tremendous gifts. One of these is the Dead Sea. There are so many hidden treasures in this region. I hope you appreciate this part of the world. I hope some of YOU can go there some time. It will bless YOU.

John Willis


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